Federal judge holds Energy Department to deadlines on Hanford cleanup



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KENNEWICK, Washington — A federal judge ruled this week that the Department of Energy will be required to build new storage tanks for high level radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation if it does not meet certain deadlines related to cleanup projects.

The Tri-City Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1UIUltI) Friday that the order issued by Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson had wins and losses for both the Department of Energy and the state of Washington on proposals for new court-enforced deadlines.

Hanford, located near Richland in eastern Washington, contains 177 nuclear waste tanks, some of which have leaked. The nation's largest collection of radioactive waste is left over from the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

The Department of Energy had proposed waiting to set deadlines until it is certain that technical issues can be resolved and that the deadlines can be met, but Peterson said that the agency must be held accountable to firm deadlines.

Under a 2010 agreement with the Energy Department, the department was given deadlines to build a plant to treat Hanford's most dangerous radioactive wastes and to retrieve wastes contained in single-walled tanks. Since 2011, the Energy Department has repeatedly told the state it cannot meet those deadlines.

That consent decree is back in court after DOE has said that most remaining deadlines for emptying 19 leak-prone tanks and constructing and starting operations of the vitrification plant to treat up to 56 million gallons of waste are at serious risk of being missed.

Peterson also ruled late Thursday that DOE would not be required to build two new facilities at the Hanford tank farms that would allow the Hanford vitrification plant to begin treating certain wastes while unresolved technical issues delay full operation of the plant.

Following Peterson's ruling, DOE and the state are required to submit revised proposals for amending the consent decree.

In her ruling, Peterson did not require DOE to build four more double shell tanks by 2022 with up to eight more required after that, as proposed by the state. The state has argued that there is not enough space remaining in the agency's usable 27 double shell tanks to hold waste from all 19 of the leak-prone single shell tanks that 2010 agreement requires to be emptied by 2022. Waste will be stored in double shell tanks until the vitrification plant is operating to treat the waste.

She'll hear arguments from both the agency and the state about what missed requirements at the Hanford tank farms would trigger the mandatory construction of one or more additional storage tanks.


Information from: Tri-City Herald, http://www.tri-cityherald.com

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